In an instant, these NBA Finals went from being a potential sleeper to a possible classic.
Admit it: when the Miami Heat took a 15-point lead with 7:13 remaining in last night’s Game 2, you were thinking sweep. Miami already had a 1-0 series lead, and the Heat looked unstoppable. Dwyane Wade had 36 points, and both he and James seemed to be dunking at will. In the second-half, Dallas starting throwing the basketball around like a bunch of Little Leaguers — you know, the ones no dads want on their teams. Dallas turnovers led to a slew of easy Heat baskets.
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Then, everything turned. The Mavericks finished the game with a stunning 22-5 run, and won the game, 95-93, on a crafty Dirk Nowitzki layup with 3.6 seconds left. One moment, we were asking if anyone could wrestle a title away from the Heat over the next five years. Now: can Miami recover from this implosion?
Game 3 is Sunday night, in Dallas. Here are three things we learned from one of the greatest comebacks in NBA Finals history, a game that will be remembered as a classic.
1. Dallas hates premature celebration
In the fourth quarter, when Miami could do no wrong, Wade sank a three pointer in the right corner, in front of the Dallas bench. Miami now led, 88-73. The Heat were feeling pretty good. Wade held his follow-through pose in the corner, just a few feet away from the despondent Dallas players. James ran over to pound him in the chest a few times. The message was clear: this baby is over.
Not so fast. Dallas’ Jason Terry, who was throwing bricks all game, called the celebration “a turning point.” The display pumped Dallas up, and the Mavericks started their historic charge. Terry scored eight huge points down the stretch.
Miami thrives on emotion. One one first-half dunk, for example, James roared, like a Wrestlemania contestant. But Miami would be wise to tone things down, especially when near the Dallas sideline.
2. Stop fretting about Dirk’s finger
Dirk Nowitzki is right-handed, but he likes to dribble, and shoot, with his left. So when, in Game 1, he tore a tendon in his left middle finger, there was justifiable concern. The finger was taped up for Game 2. But he scored both the game-tying and game-winning hoops with his “weak” hand. On the final play, he dribbled around Chris Bosh, who should have fouled Nowitzki since the Heat had one more to give, with his left hand, and made a lefty-layup before James rotated over to help.
3. Dallas can play pretty basketball
With the game tied at 90, Miami ran a stagnant play before Wade hoisted a three-pointer with 40-seconds left. He missed, and when Dallas came down court, the Mavericks executed a brilliant strategy. Jason Terry dribbled off of two screens, one set by Nowitzki, and another by Tyson Chandler. While Miami’s defense focused on Terry, Chandler then set a screen on Nowitzki’s defender, Udonis Haslem. Terry stopped dribbling to his right, and shot a pass to a wide-open Nowitzki to his left. Nowitzki nailed a three-pointer, which gave Dallas a 93-90 lead with 26.7 seconds left.
Although a Terry defensive brain freeze allowed Miami’s Mario Chalmers to get wide open for a game-tying thee pointer moments later, the Mavericks were able to isolate Nowitzki for the deciding layup at the end.
While Dallas ran smart plays during its comeback, Miami seemed to panic, and resorted to the bad offensive habits that cost them games early in the season. The Heat stood around and watched either James or Wade chuck a shot. These guys can’t hit every tough shot they take. In a crunch, Miami’s offense needs to get creative.
If it doesn’t, that Heat dynasty — so inevitable — might be delayed.
(VIDEO: LeBron James, Making the Shot)